Relief for Halilhodzic after three points

For five long months, the image of Izwan Mahbud clawing away save after save had an effect on Vahid Halilhodzic's psyche, gnawed at his confidence, preyed on his doubts.

Against near impossible odds, Singapore pulled off the shock of Group E in the World Cup Asian qualifiers, grinding out a 0-0 draw in Saitama in June.

But after his Japan side redeemed themselves with a convincing 3-0 win at the National Stadium yesterday, the Bosnian felt a ghost had been exorcised.

"I was a forward when I was a player and never in my life had I seen so many chances missed as that game (in Saitama)," the Samurai Blue coach said.

"Singapore are a team with many good qualities, especially that goalkeeper (Izwan). There is a forward who didn't play today (Khairul Amri) who is also a good player."

MORE PRAISE FOR IZWAN

Singapore are a team with many good qualities, especially that goalkeeper (Izwan).

VAHID HALILHODZIC Japan coach

Before the match, the 63-year-old, a former striker with Paris Saint-Germain who had coached Ivory Coast and Algeria, came under fire for not conjuring up a landslide win over the Lions in Saitama.

He became visibly agitated and annoyed by the Japanese media's line of questioning, the lines on his craggy face deepening with every frown.

But after skinning the Lions inside their Kallang den, he could afford to crack jokes, spoke in a conciliatory tone and was effusive in his praise of his players.

Keisuke Honda made a big difference in the match and was Japan's equivalent to a Special Forces operator, infiltrating behind the lines through the middle and picking holes on the flanks.

He pounced first as left-back Shakir Hamzah missed a header in the 20th minute, lobbing a cross into the box, which was cushioned by forward Yoshinori Muto for fellow striker Mu Kanazaki to volley home.

Six minutes later, the AC Milan forward rammed in a second to underline his class.

But it was the overall effort that had Halilhodzic summarising his appraisal in one word - "Bravo".

"I am very happy with what they showed," he said. "Kanazaki scored a good goal, (Hiroshi) Kiyotake showed good build-up play, (Makoto) Hasebe had a few chances.

"There are some moments in the game when I was very satisfied. We showed discipline and ambition to win. Our goalkeeper didn't touch the ball.

"We can and we will play better."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Relief for Halilhodzic after three points'. Print Edition | Subscribe